Chapter IV.
Lakes and Rivers.

I did not intend to say much about the surface features of the county, as with the exception of the forests, they will remain much as they are now for years to come, but there is one feature of the topography of our county of so peculiar and interesting a character that I cannot well pass it by, and that is the lakes and rivers within our borders.

Becker County occupies a peculiar position in the physical geography of our country, located as it is on the watershed of North America. We are living at the fountain-head. Our county is at the beginning and the parting of two mighty rivers. Around us rise the fountains from which the great Mississippi begins its course to the Gulf of Mexico, and from which the Red River of the North pursues its winding way to the Arctic Sea. A peculiarity of these rivers is, that they both start on their long journey to the sea in a direction exactly opposite to their general course and final destination.

Where on the face of the earth was there a more beautiful river than the Otter Tail, in the town of Erie, before the pines and the firs were cut away from along its banks? Many of its features of beauty still remain.

The south end of the Itasca State Park extends into Becker County, occupying all of sections one, two, three and four of Savannah Township. Hon. J. V. Brower, under whose direction this park was created, pronounced Lake Hernando De Soto “the greater ultimate reservoir bowl at the source of the Mississippi River.” This lake lies in section three of Savannah Township, and the “Hautuers,” or dividing ridge between its waters and those of the Red River extends to the line between sections three and ten, a full mile within the limits of Becker County. This dividing ridge is semicircular in outline and forms a rim around the head of the lake about two hundred feet higher than the lake itself.

Lake Itasca has an elevation of 1457 feet above sea level; Lake Hernando De Soto and elevation of 1558 feet while the “Hautuers,” or dividing ridge is 1750 feet above, and is the highest point of land in this part of the state.

There is no perpetual stream of water flowing from Lake Hernando De Soto towards Lake Itasca, but in wet seasons, when there is a surplus of water, there is a considerable flowage from the first named lake into the streams that drain into Lake Itasca, where they mingle with and become a part of the waters of the Mississippi River.

I will quote the following from Neil’s History of Minnesota:


Like the Garden of Eden this part of the country is encircled by lakes and rivers. There, is “water, water, everywhere.” The surface of the country is dotted with lakes, and in some regions it is impossible to travel two miles without meeting a beautiful expanse of water. Many of these are linked together by small and clear rivulets, while others are isolated. Their configurations is varied and picturesque; some are large, with precipitous shores, and contain wooded islands, others are approached by gentle grassy slopes. Owens in his geological report says: “Their beds are generally pebbly, or covered with small boulders, which peep out along the shore and frequently show a rocky line around the entire circumference. But few of them have mud bottoms. The water is generally sweet and clear, and is as cool and refreshing during the heat of summer as the water of springs or wells. Nearly all the lakes abound with various species of fish, of a quality and flavor greatly superior to those of the waters of the Middle and Southern States.”

E. D. Neil


There are two hundred and ninety-six meandered lakes in Becker County, containing all the way from forty to several thousand acres each. A lake to be meandered by the government surveyors must contain not less than forty acres. In addition to these lakes there are more than a thousand ponds, containing from five to forty acres each, scattered over the county.

Cormorant Lake was originally much the largest lake in Becker County, but about twenty-five years ago it was cut in twain by the lowering of its waters. The eastern division, however, still holds its place at the head of the list for size of all the lakes in the county. This lake originally contained 7011.38 acres exclusive of meandered islands of which there are eight, with an aggregate area of 326.35 acres, of which six are in the eastern division with 209.07 acres, and two in the western division with 117.28 acres. The eastern division contains 4728.66 acres exclusive of meandered islands and the western division 2282.72 acres. I have been recently informed, however, that the water in this lake has been rising until it now covers the old channel between the two sections of the lake, and there is a probability that in a few more years it will resume its former level.

Section 13 of Cormorant Township is the only solid government section in Becker County that lies entirely within the limits of any of its lakes.

The second lake in the order so size is Height of Land Lake, with an area of 3921.33 acres. Shell Lake is third with 3219.40 acres, and Detroit Lake is fourth with 3117.97 acres. Floyd Lake in Detroit Township contains 1225 acres, and Oak Lake in the same township (the name by which this whole country was know in 1870 and 1871) contains 78.67 acres.